Jason Hammel had worked all offseason with Saturday in mind.
After fading in the second half each of the past two seasons, Hammel shed some weight over the winter and came back determined to stay consistent and effective throughout the entire season.
The veteran right-hander got off to a great start in that regard in his first post All-Star Break outing Saturday, shutting down the Texas Rangers in a 3-1 Cubs victory in front of 41,346 fans at Wrigley Field.
Hammel allowed only one run (which scored on a wide throw from Anthony Rizzo on Elvis Andrus' infield single in the second inning) on three hits and a walk, striking out seven. He went six innings to lower his season ERA to 3.34 and improve his record to 8-5.
Last season, Hammel posted a 2.86 ERA in the first half, but followed that up with a 5.10 mark after the All-Star Break. In 2014, his season was split into a 3.01 first-half ERA and a 4.31 second-half mark.
But after Saturday's game, Hammel didn't want to make too much about his second-half fades, preferring to start a new chapter and leave the past in the past.
"I just go a game at a time," he said. "I'm not even thinking about it. I knew that question was going to come up. As long as we want to focus on it, we can talk about it.
"But I'm just going game-by-game, pitch-by-pitch, trusting the routine that I've put together with some help. Just trying to come out and start off on a good foot."
The Cubs have now allowed just one run and eight hits in 18 innings to the American League's best team to start the second half after the pitching staff slumped badly prior to the break.
Rizzo drove home the Cubs' first two runs on a two-out double in the third off Rangers starter Yu Darvish.
Darvish made his return off the disabled list and struck out nine Cubs, but lasted only 4.1 innings as he was limited to 90 pitches.
"Darvish, my god," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "You can just see when he's well. I've seen it before. It's beyond electric stuff, what he's got."
Matt Szczur drove in the Cubs' third and final run of the game with a pinch-hit single up the middle in the sixth.
It was the second straight day with an RBI pinch-hit for Szczur, who ranks third in the majors with 10 pinch hits.
"Matty coming off the bench, being aggressive and getting another big hit," Maddon said. "That was a big moment, too, to give us a little bit of breathing room."
Adam Warren, Travis Wood and Hector Rondon shut the door for Hammel and the Cubs, with Rondon picking up his 15th save in the process.